One sen­tence to sum up the foot­ball cham­pi­onship . . .

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SPORTS - Keith Dug­gan

Ray-Bans and rosary beads and other totems at the ready, then, for, just like that, it’s back: the GAA All-Ire­land Se­nior Foot­ball Cham­pi­onship, spon­sored by, oh, who cares, who cares; back in all towns and vil­lages for the 131st sum­mer and count­ing, the big sprawl­ing com­pe­ti­tion that is less of a sports tour­na­ment than a four-month-long state of mind and a na­tional con­ver­sa­tion in which many of Ire­land’s favourite themes – the weather, the traf­fic, the price of pints in the city ver­sus down the coun­try, the un­fair­ness of life, Joe Brolly, the state of the roads, um­pires, Kerry cute­ness, the weaker coun­ties, em­i­gra­tion, the na­tional an­them, the best way to get into/out of Clones, whether Fitzger­ald Sta­dium in Killarney on a cloud­less day when the ball is thrown in and hangs there for an eter­nal sec­ond like some mag­i­cal orb in front of Mount Bran­don as Cork and Kerry hands reach sky­wards might not, in fact, just about edge out the Pyra­mids and the Light­house of Alexan­dria as one of the true won­ders of the world, whether the ref­eree was “play­ing” for a draw, the greed of the GAA, the death of the kick­ing game, the de­cline of first-time hurl­ing, Séa­mus Darby’s goal, Sky, RTÉ, hand­bags-stuff, red cards, in­jury time, Cody, the con­so­la­tion of The South Wind Blows on the long dusty evening drives home, the un­bear­able pas­sion of John Mul­lane, the mag­is­te­rial diplomacy of Michael Lys­ter, Mayo, the fash­ion sense on The Sun­day Game, and most of all, the im­por­tance of mak­ing The Most Of The Day Out – which has al­ways been the point of the whole she­bang; the rit­ual of go­ing to the game; of park­ing in the wee lane there be­hind the cathe­dral that your un­cle told you about when he drove a car­load of you that day it lashed rain, of meet­ing your brother who’s just off the plane from JFK in Kennedy’s of Drum­con­dra in time for the mi­nor game; of be­ing will­ing to ig­nore the per­pet­ual un­fair­ness of be­ing from Leitrim try­ing to take on the might of Mayo or Gal­way or go­ing to the Mackey Stand be­cause that’s where you saw your first game with your fa­ther in ’62 or ’79 or ’04; of try­ing to ex­plain the in­ef­fa­ble cool­ness of Jimmy Barry Mur­phy circa 1982 to your 16-year-old who thinks that Cork hurl­ing be­gan with Se­tanta Ó hAilpín or leav­ing Kille­shan­dra for Br­effni telling your six-year-old that even though Ca­van have only won a lone Ul­ster cham­pi­onship in 50 years, they still have twice as many ti­tles as any other county . . . that they are that good and watch, then, as the nar­row shoul­ders straighten a lit­tle with this new­found Pride of Place – on which the whole thing de­pends; the ir­re­versible con­vic­tion all Ir­ish peo­ple share that their own county is, when all’s said and done, bet­ter than any­where else in the world and al­though you can give out stink about it for 364 days of the year, when the Sun­day comes that the car is swel­ter­ing and there’s a two-mile tail­back of cars all fly­ing the county flags and it feels like an en­tire tribe is Ris­ing, with ev­ery­one shar­ing this be­lief that The County might be about to do some­thing spe­cial and that’s when true colours come out and the All-Ire­land cham­pi­onship per­mits oth­er­wise mild and re­served Ir­ish men and women to some­times lose them­selves, in those stands and on those ter­races, for that hour when the game is on and they know they are go­ing com­pletely berserk but they can’t help it be­cause they’ve been wait­ing five or 15 or 50 years for this mo­ment and it’s so close they can al­most touch it and ac­tu­ally win­ning would seem like the kind of mir­a­cle – that has al­ways been cen­tral to the al­lure of the All-Ire­land cham­pi­onship; Gal­way in ’80, Of­faly in ’82, Done­gal in ’92, Derry in ’93, Leitrim in ’94, Clare in ’95, Fer­managh in ’04; this fab­u­lous no­tion that coun­ties can pro­duce bril­liant teams which come rag­ing out of the dark­ness ev­ery so of­ten and even though the sys­tem is un­fair and the big­ger coun­ties al­most al­ways win, that off-chance of sur­prise holds the beauty of it, even if this sum­mer will see the un­veil­ing of the so-called Su­per 8s – a phrase which does not roll nat­u­rally off the Gael’s tongue and which has a kind of cor­po­rate Amer­i­can hok­i­ness about it, as if it was dreamed up in a brain­storm­ing ses­sion by a per­sua­sive pan-At­lantic type named Lance or Guy and which has al­ready con­vinced many that the pro­vin­cial cham­pi­onships are as good as dead be­cause they don’t mean any­thing any­more, that all that mat­ters for teams now is mak­ing it to these Su­per 8s – which, if true, will con­firm the worst fears and sus­pi­cions of a good por­tion of the coun­try who are con­vinced that these are the end of days for the old, beloved cham­pi­onship and that the Su­per 8s wheeze is just fur­ther proof that the GAA cham­pi­onship has now gone the way of all other big sports events , there to be squeezed and spun to suit the cor­po­rate in­ter­ests and the spon­sors and the tele­vi­sion com­pa­nies, that it may be, as An Spailpín Fá­nach warned this week, “an abom­i­na­tion . . . a crime and a sin that the Su­per 8s now rig the Cham­pi­onship to en­sure that only the rich sur­vive” – and that view has to be re­spected be­cause the lifeblood of the All-Ire­land cham­pi­onship is de­pen­dent on the idea that it be­longs to ev­ery­one and that it pos­sesses a kind of lo­calised en­ergy that you can’t re­ally fab­ri­cate or mar­ket or in truth re­ally even un­der­stand; that to be in the world of Brew­ster Park, say, for Fer­managh v Ar­magh is to re­main mag­i­cally out­side the clutches of the world as shaped by Mark Zucker­berg or Jeff Be­zos, where you’re fully alive and en­gaged and so fully in­volved in those next sec­onds of your team and county’s fu­ture that you can hardly dare to breathe.

En­joy it, now.

. . . and that’s when true colours come out and the All-Ire­land cham­pi­onship per­mits oth­er­wise mild and re­served Ir­ish men and women to some­times lose them­selves, in those stands and on those ter­races, for that hour when the game is on . . .


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